Runaway Brands

For the smattering of readers who follow this space, you will know that I started off the week in Vegas at the first “community 2.0” conference specifically created for the enterprise to explore how social networks and online collaboration can contribute to business success.

One of the conference’s more compelling presentations came from Ben McConnell who co-wrote the books Creating Customer Evangelists and its recently published sequel Citizen Marketers.

In his presentation, Ben laid out a number of real-life scenarios that will surely send shutters down the spine of any brand manager who puts the accent on the “manager” part of his job title. The cases demonstrated how growing access to broadband and simple-to-use content creation tools have empowered those (motivated) consumers to extol the products, services and companies they love…or castigate those they hate — in effect wresting control away from a marketer’s carefully laid out (and expensive) plans to garner brand glory.

He classifies these citizen content creators into one of the following categories: “filters,” “fanatics,” “facilitators” or “firecrackers.” On Monday, I posted about one group of “fanatics” who created and maintain the iSociety website for enthusiasts of IBM’s mid-range computing platform. It operates completely outside the aegis, but with the endorsement of Big Blue (as if the computer maker had a choice in the matter).

My friend (and career consigliere) Penelope pointed me to a case of one “firecracker” who decided to blow the lid off her former employer, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, by posting “9 Confessions From A Former Enterprise Rental Salesman” on the Consumerist blog. The list starts out like this:

  1. Enterprise doesn’t have any set prices.
  2. By now everyone knows that you don’t need that extra rental insurance…
  3. If you want to secure a really low daily rate but stay on that employee’s good site (i.e. so you can get the same deal again and again), take your rental by any Enterprise in the region the next day and remove the extra coverage…
  4. This is the big money tip: Most of Enterprise’s business comes from insurance replacement rentals.
  5. Enterprise runs the “weekend specials” because there are loads of spare cars on weekends.

While in Vegas, I asked Corante president and conference chairman Francois Gossieaux about the impending loss of control over brand message. He said that the age of “interrupt marketing” may be coming to an end, and that marketers need to recognize that communities will eventually drive brands. He did say, however, that online communities are not immune to being influenced. I’m paraphrasing, so here’s the audio clip (TRT: 11:14).

Also, here is a link to the conference blog that raises more eyebrows on the “future of communities.”